Critical Comment

Handling-CriticismLast week, I wrote on the subject of criticism of others and interestingly received plenty of feedback. One man said to me that if leaders were not doing their job of reigning in bad doctrine, bad conduct or sin in the church, then someone had to. He also suggested that this it was fair and reasonable to engage in public criticism in such cases because comments he was upset about were made in a public forum. I shared his concern with the detail of what he was seeing, but could not agree with his response to it. Here’s why.

1. A biblical standard exists in Matthew 18:15-20 regarding the need to speak first with people who offend us. Referring beyond that involves the right people and a solution-focused approach. Criticisms and complaints are often warranted, but the process is important.

2. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, Paul encourages Christians to avoid a public show of disunity and suggests that people prefer to be wronged. This requires tremendous humility and restraint. Public attacks contravene this intent, especially when on the say-so of individuals.

3. Colossians 4:6 and Titus 3:2 encourage gracious treatment of people by Christians, and it is such aspects of Christian character that are often missing in critics’ responses.

4. Acts 20:27-31 encourages watching and warning, but this is Paul as a leader speaking to elders of the church. Leaders are to enact this responsibility and individuals simply cannot assume the right to fill any perceived void.

Even when Ephesians 5:11 seems to endorse exposing works of darkness, the context is about the fact that the light of God in us is what logically exposes sin (verse 13) and this says nothing about attacking other Christians. To contend for the Gospel cannot be at the expense of its very requirements of godly conduct.

Finally, the Bible encourages searching the Scriptures to check the accuracy of teaching (as in Acts 17:11), but this is an instruction for the benefit and counsel of the individual and in no way endorses public criticism as a valid response.



8 thoughts on “Critical Comment

  1. Rob,

    Please provide an example of what you define as public criticism vs someone calling out false teaching with the aim to warn and teach the people of God.

    False teaching and practices are on the increase in church. Therefore, I totally agree with the man you referred to in the intro to your post. If leaders (including yourself) are not doing the job of addressing false teachers, then God will raise up others to ensure His people are taught the truth. Grace and love are not just about keeping quiet and smiling politely, but sometimes require more direct methods to address unrepentant sin to see the person restored. Jesus Himself spoke out publicly, so too did the Apostles. But…oh I see they were ‘leaders’ so that’s OK then is it?

    BTW, given that your last post referred to ‘Bethel Bashers’, what then is your opinion on Bill Johnson recently calling out someone as a false prophet? Is this form of public criticism OK because Mr Johnson is a pastor (or are you somewhat sympathetic towards Bethel because members of your church follow their teaching)?

    Furthermore, you reference Matthew 18 as the biblical standard. But this is specifically for dealing with sin within the church, not false teachers. Nevertheless, many of these prominent false teachers have likely been warned privately already, so if they persist in their error then it becomes necessary to expose them publicly – with of course the desire to see them repent and be lovingly restored. Yet regardless they’re still allowed to persist in teaching error to the detriment of others! Wouldn’t you, as a pastor, want to see your flock protected from false teachers outside your church too?

    • Hi Amy, It would be wrong to assume that I am not addressing false teaching, that I am a supporter of the Bethel church, or that I am opposed to protecting churches from false teaching. You will note that I have not been opposed to church leaders addressing heresy or sin within churches, but I have intended to argue that the average church member should not be deeming that it is their right to attack Christians, irrespective of the supposed deficiencies of leaders in their own churches or the churches that they oppose. Assuming Scriptural authority leads individuals to take rights upon themselves that are given to the church and its leaders. To act for God in denouncing anyone that an individual supposes to be in error runs the risk of ungracious – sometimes even self- righteous – pronouncements that are possibly devoid of other biblical perspectives. This practice often masks deficiencies or blind spots in the attacker, too. The person I spoke about is from a large church with plenty of wise counsel and well-connected, experienced and trained leaders; I cannot see how he can bypass their guidance to fly solo and ostracise people with attacks on men I personally know to be honourable, fruitful, orthodox and thoroughly committed to the Christian cause, men he has not even phoned. Another leader who made similar attacks on some of the same people actually agreed with my thoughts (which he had not previously considered) and, to his credit, owned his personal wrongdoing, phoned them, reconciled, removed offensive web posts and actually saw that he was not accurate in his original assumptions; he now approaches such situations differently and he, his church and other Christians are better off for the minimisation of the damage he used to cause.

  2. Ah the complicated Christian life Hey. There is only one fix LOVE, not human love yet the supernatural love “sown abroad in our hearts” that creates and sustains community, fellowship, unity, humility, grace and all things worth anything.

    • Thanks Morry. Yes, the famous ‘love chapter’ of 1 Corinthians 13 was inserted between two chapters on Spiritual Gifts & the Church to undoubtedly help remind Christians of the importance of love as a motivation for all that we do.

  3. What a coincidence that I was reading a commentary on Jude this morning and also stumbled upon this blog and saw this (and your other) post on criticism.

    I feel we need to keep a clear distinction between general criticism (petty grievances, dislikes etc.) and false teaching (“another gospel”) which can have a disastrous impact on the wider church. As you suggest, general criticism should be dealt with privately where possible, but false teaching on the other hand requires something stronger to protect the church.

    With Jude, he wanted to write about ‘nicer’ things, but felt it necessary to condemn false teachers and call for the church to contend for the faith. This commentary was indicating that it is the job of everybody to do, not just the leaders. Jesus decried false teachers publicly, Paul decried false teachers publicly. There are several pastors/leaders operating blogs that seek to call out false teachers publicly too.

    I personally don’t see an issue with leaders and individuals pointing out serious doctrinal error so that people are informed and can keep clear. It needs to be done carefully and with a loving tone, but always with the mind of protecting the church from error, but also hoping to see the false teachers repent too.

    But again, I agree that criticism in general should be dealt with privately where possible. It’s just sad to see when the two are confused to the extent that many can’t really distinguish the difference.

    • Some good comments here Anthony. I guess we might disagree a little on the rights of individuals to decide on what is false teaching, but serious doctrinal error is certainly a problem that can cause damage and therefore needs addressing. Also, love is a motivation and characteristic missing somewhat from the lives of many Christians who do critique others. That is something which leaders also need to help address as a flaw that can do damage to people and to the cause of Christ. I think that, when a person does show love in addressing what they believe to be error (thus following Ephesians 4:15), they tend to value relationship and humility in the process and this keeps them open to the possibility that others will find fault with them, too.

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